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Is He?

Because if he is, all suffering has meaning beyond itself. There is only a comma after suffering, not an exclamation point! Not even a period. This is what it means to believe, not that there is no suffering, which is clearly not correct and is insulting to those who are suffering, but rather, that at the end of all suffering is a comma, or an ellipses... or, if you prefer (as Evelyn Ashford in the movie "Wit" suggests), a semicolon;

If he is (risen, that is), it means that death truly is a friend to get to know, not an enemy to avoid nor, God forbid, to defeat. It means that there really is joy in the world that cannot be explained by mere synapses and dopamine and evolutionary conditioning; that there is true happiness and that sadness means something – because something valuable was lost, for instance – but then some joy again because that valuable thing is not lost forever. I don’t only cry when a friend dies. Sometimes I cry when the friend simply leaves for a long time. This is why believers cry at funerals, even though they believe they will see that person again some time. Or out of time.

It means that there is a bonafide reason for hope, for true hope in something tangible, some Last Word, a sign of rescue, some other thing (or person) that we don’t yet fully comprehend or understand or even recognize but will know all too well when we see it, or him, or her. It means that there is always a reason to "wake up, get out of bed, and drag a comb across your head."

If he is risen, it means that there truly is a reason for laughter, for comedy, for reprieve from the daily toil. It means we can smile at each other like two people who share a secret that everyone else knows. It means that those who say there is no God are not even being truthful to themselves. (There are other reasons to deny God’s existence, after all, beyond not believing in God's existence.)

But it also carries the deepest of indictments (if he is risen) of so many of our present realities, which we have been conditioned to accept as perfectly normal. It means, for instance, that entire industries (the military industrial complex, much of entertainment -- including the porn and violence industry -- most social media, virtually all advertising, the banking system, the IMF, etc…) are built on lies. It means that many of our goals to make more money, which is another way to gain more power, which is another way we try to become like God, are built on the oldest lie of all, which is a lesson we should have learned back in the Garden but either refused to or forgot to. Or both.

It means that heads will roll and shit will hit the fan and names will be taken and fists are going to fly and all hell will break loose… because there are consequences to hatred and dishonesty and cynicism and lust and envy and war. Because there are right and wrong roads to take, lines we shouldn’t cross, spells we shouldn’t cast, things we shouldn’t say. Trees we shouldn’t eat from.

It means that life has contours and meaning and purpose and is a labyrinth and not a maze. It means that there is someone to follow, even if we think we know the way, and that we follow primarily through prayer and study, supplication and discipline.

It means, finally, that there is a mystery that lies at the heart of things, beyond our provincial truths, and which gives our lives context, without which nothing would mean anything; would mean that the whole is less than the sum of its parts; would mean that the context is smaller than the text, which doesn’t make any sense.

I offer these two excerpts from the latest things I’ve read as proof of all this:

“Unquestionably there is much pain, physical and mental, in the world. We can never forget the anguish of those who suffered in the German death camps, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the villages of Vietnam. And pain goes on in prisons, ghettos, labor camps, in bombed villages and places where political prisoners are tortured. But pain is not cumulative. It is individual. When an individual has too much to bear, he is eased by death, which comes as a friend. And no one’s life is wholly pain; each has some moments of beauty, of happiness. To me it seems childish and churlish to say that life is horrible and without meaning. Life is a trust, given into our hands, to hold carefully, to use well, to enjoy, to give back when the time comes… I do not think that life lacks metaphysical sense, even if I cannot say explicitly what that sense is; I am sure that life has meaning, that I have work to do, that when it is finished I shall abandon this body and enter the unknown. ”

~ from Being Seventy: The Measure of a Year by Elizabeth Gray Vining

The poor women

at the fountain are laughing together between

the suffering they have known and the awfulness

in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody

in the village is very sick. There is laughter

every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,

and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,

we lessen the importance of their deprivation.

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,

we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.

~ from the poem “A Brief for the Defense” by Jack Gilbert

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I could not agree more. I took a course this semester on eschatology and have been surprised to realize how much of our faith is predicated upon our understanding of the end. As Christians (as you have just said) we no longer fear death but in some ways we actually eagerly anticipate it, for we know that it brings with it new life. Similarly, it is our understanding of the end - that God will have the final word - that allows us to patiently endure the sufferings and wrong-doings in this life. We do not have to take justice or judgment into our own hands because it is God who will right all wrongs. Our ethics are predicated on…

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